How We Fall For That 'Reality Can Kiss My Behind' Attitude

How any of us build imaginary walls that can’t protect us from reality.

Posted Apr 30, 2019

Some people turn their backs on reality, hoping to repel it by spewing effluent at it, a pungent smoke screen to keep it at bay. 

How does one come to assume that “reality can kiss my behind” posture, turning a blind eye, burying our heads in the sand, imagining a big beautiful wall that can’t really keep reality out, or passing through the escape hatch of self-delusion from which it can be so hard to climb out? 

Not by a single path – no one way of slipping into that escape hatch. Con artists and cult leaders dive in headfirst, eager for profit. Some cult followers are swept down the hatch by a lemming-like swarm. Psychopaths can't feel their descent.

But any of us can fall down the escape hatch, never to resurface. The harder our lives are, the easier to fall. 

We have to stay positive; we have to stay realistic. We make a virtue of doing both without noticing that they’re often at odds.

We don’t have to notice if we close our eyes or fast-forward when the discouraging parts of life come on. A bill we can’t pay arrives and we ignore it. A disappointing message comes through and we speed-read it before tossing it out. We really should have your doctor check out that lump but maybe it will go away. The news is frustrating so we stop watching it. Positivity before realism, especially when we’re at our wit’s ends.

When we meet resistance, the path of least resistance is to check out, turn our attention to something more pleasant. These days, pleasanter things are in ample supply, magical positive fantasies, for example, romcoms and sitcoms but also their opposite, for example, violent TV and video games or angry music. 

How is such negativity pleasanter? It’s like the sound of a thunderstorm outside your safe shelter. The more unpleasant it is outside the more cozy comfort you can take in not being out there weathering it. Besides, virtual negativity is intense, like pinching yourself to distract from the doctor poking you with his sharp needle. Watching a bloody battle on screen takes your mind off today’s real conflicts.

Escapism is great and necessary. There’s way too much world for any of us to handle, much of it negative. It’s a good thing humans are born with a capacity for escapism. We’d be wrecks without it. 

But make escapism a wall-to-wall way of life and you’ll wreck everything. 

The problem with total escapism is that when the reality is neglected it tends to get worse. Not always. Sometimes what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Sometimes problems just go away or were false alarms after all. 

But as a general rule? No. Neglected problems worsen.

As they worsen we escape more. It’s not difficult. Just relax your standards for consistency or just never develop those standards in the first place. Let yourself talk out both sides of your mouth, for example, one minute saying you’re facing a serious problem and the next saying it’s nothing or someone else’s problem, or one minute claiming to be exceptionally realistic and the next saying reality isn’t real or your fantasy is more real. 
If that’s not enough to keep you feeling positive, you can lash out at others, the fools who haven’t treated you right, the idiots who are unfair and inconsistent. It’s easy to hold a higher standard for others than we do for ourselves. It’s like that violent TV or angry music, a problem that makes us feel safer because it’s theirs, not ours.

Total escapism gets easier with practice. We gain competence at it which can become its own comfort. Total escapism becomes a badge of honor, the ability to escape with such confidence and cleverness, pretend life is a game we’re winning by shirking reality. That’s the escape hatch and anyone can slide into it. That’s the imaginary wall anyone can build, taking pride in however long one can maintain it, pretending we can keep reality at bay. 

Though total escapism can overtake some people more readily than others, it can overtake any of us.  Though some cultures invite total escapism more readily than others, any culture can invite it. Competent proud escapism is non-denominational. People can fall into it from any angle.   

As we enter the political season, some of us on both sides of the divide are concerned about a growing epidemic of escapism. The right accuses the left of falling for fake news. The left thinks the right has become a cult. The right doesn’t have a problem with accusing the left of escapism but the left is squeamish about pointing fingers. Will it make their opponents stronger? After all, escapists can escape accusations of escapism too, lashing out at anyone who accuses them of being unrealistic. Maybe it’s better to just focus on bread and butter betterment, health care and other pocketbook policy issues. 

Perhaps it’s possible to focus on both in a way that exposes the escapism epidemic and focuses on positive pocketbook policy. For example:

My fellow Americans, when the going gets tough as it has, there will be people who want to build a big beautiful wall to keep reality out. They won’t want to look like they’re hiding so they pretend they’re soldiers defending a fortress of truth from lies. It just looks braver.

There’s a lot of that going on now, an epidemic of fear dressed up as bravery. How can you tell who has caught the bug? Inconsistency. People of whatever faction who say it’s real news only when it confirms what they hope is true and fake news when it doesn’t.

It’s easy to pretend that you’re the brave and fair-minded referee when you’re really calling fouls on anything that threatens your confidence. It’s easy to pretend you’re a freedom fighter when you’re only interested in freedom from reality.

In my campaign, we’ll expose this epidemic for what it is, imaginary walls that can’t keep reality out. Pretending that we’re behind an imaginary wall is what has the US falling behind. We’re going to lend a hand to those who caught the bug. We’ll comfort those who realize they have to return to reality. How? By focusing on bread and butter betterment, by concentrating on positive pocketbook policies. That’s the job of a president: not profiting from imaginary walls that can’t keep reality out, but bringing comfort to all as we face reality together.